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40 years of active presence

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

    EVERYDAY LIFE – Language

    Corfu, being a bridge between the Balkans and Italy, was bound to become a place of mixed cultures and, therefore, languages. Romaniote Jews in Greece spoke the same language as their Christian compatriots, as proven by their non-biblical and, therefore, liberal translations as well as by their original written works. The term Judæo-Greek is used to denote this dialect, which was written in Hebrew characters. The Greek as used by the Jews on Corfu scarcely differed from that employed by the non-Jewish inhabitants. They also used a special minhag (rite), the Corfu Minhag, that was a variant of the Minhag Romania.

    The Romaniotes spoke Judæo-Greek until other Jews slowly but steadily joined them between the 12th and 14th centuries from the Angevin possessions of southern Italy. Later, after the island became a Venetian province, the Venetian dialect also took root. “Judæo-Italian” refers to these dialects. The higher classes of Corfu’s Jewish community spoke the Venetian dialect with some modifications, due to the influence of Greek, from which it borrowed some vocabulary and syntactic peculiarities. The Apulian dialect, in supplanting the Greek of the original community, took more material from it than the Venetian dialect did. However, its original vocabulary was impoverished and deprived of its finest elements. A Corfiot Jew visiting any part of Apulia would find it difficult to understand the spoken vernacular or the songs of the natives, although the grammatical structure was exactly the same. Another sign of cultural syncretism was the use of polyphonic music in Corfu’s synagogues.

    With the destruction of the community in the Holocaust, these two traditional dialects disappeared; the few remaining Jews of the island speak almost exclusively Modern Greek.

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